“Stop distracting me,” she snapped at him. “And don’t you ‘you’re cute when you’re mad’ me.” He made a zip motion over his lips although he could hardly suppress the smirk that had settled there.
“Ass,” she mumbled with a poorly contained smile while swatting his shoulder. “Let me translate the conversation for you. Russell knows of the many deaths in my family. He all but implied my mother and gran were negligent in my manners on account of my temper.”
“I like your temper,” he smiled at her. She just glared at him to let her finish causing him to reconsider his stance on that.
“Someone doesn’t ask a woman of her intentions unless it is to stress, if you have to ask they probably aren’t good.”
“He doesn’t care what happens between us,” Eric replied dismissively before it dawned on him. “Russell was purposefully being passive-aggressive with you. He was pushing for you to lash out.”
She nodded, “Yes, he was testing my limits of propriety. I think he knows.”
“He was pushing to break my hold on my manners. To pry where I shouldn’t,” she sighed, her body relaxing some as she locked her eyes on his. “He knows about my ability, Eric, and he wasn’t shy about letting me know.”
“Pam witnessed you with Long Shadow, she must have told him,” Eric offered trying to ease her anxiety, though it did little to settle his own. “She promised not to speak to anyone about it. I specifically mentioned Russell and Talbot were not to know,” he whispered in disappointment.
“The deaths in my family can be easily looked up, but not the ring, Eric, and Raven couldn’t know about that,” Sookie offered hoping to absolve her of the blame. “She seemed to be warning us about something in the room this morning.”
“But she knows of your ability.” His heart sank a little, for as long as he had known Pam, her word meant everything for it had been the only currency she could barter in when little else was afforded to her. It appeared it hadn’t stopped her from communicating in other ways, like the way she had been vaguely hinting at something to him that morning. He hated to think it, but it was the only truth that made sense. She was working both sides.
Eric heaved a deep sigh, “I fear we no longer know where her loyalties lie.”
“We need a sanctuary,” Eric spoke after the silence had worn on too long. “You suspect we are being bugged?”
She nodded having come to the same conclusion with Pam’s cryptic messages that morning. “I don’t know, but you’ve taught me to be cautious. Would a dying man really spend so much time playing games?”
“A dying man? No,” Eric replied as his shoulders seemed to sag further. “Russell might.”
“Your instincts to keep your guard up were not a precaution,” she sighed leaning into his body.
“Around Russell it is never a bad choice. Why did you offer to cook for him?”
“He’s not the only one well-versed in circular speak,” Sookie answered proudly. “His choice spoke volumes. Gumbo is mostly a New Orleans thing. Yes, it’s eaten across the South, but it’s a point of pride to The Big Easy.”
“He’s setting you up to fail,” Eric noted
“Yes. Too bad for him my Gran spent many years in the French Quarter working as a governess,” she grinned with victory while an excited dance fired her eyes. “Her gumbo was famous throughout Renard Parish and every visiting guest was treated to a bowl of it.”
“When you told him, I told you much about him, you threatened him, didn’t you?” Eric asked going over the conversation in his head once more, trying to dissect the points of unspoken tension.
Her triumphant fire remained burning in her eyes, “Yes, I told him in no uncertain terms that I knew what he was up to. I wouldn’t hesitate to pull it from him if I have to.”
Eric couldn’t help burn up a little along with her in the process. He nuzzled her face while he whispered low and hoarse into her ear, “You’re so hot when you’re all fired up.”
Her inner flush rapidly spread across her face and down her chest at his attentions. She managed to cool down a little remembering the serious nature of their situation.
“It’s all fun and games till someone gets burned,” she returned before putting some distance between them and awkwardly stepped away towards the shoreline.
“I think that’s what he wants from you,” Eric remarked as his rational brain rebooted. “He wants you to reveal yourself, initiate you into his inner circle or yours. Perhaps both.”
“He seeks to confess,” Sookie said after some thought before sitting beside him again. “My aunt wasn’t that different. She wasn’t religious until the last months either. She needed to shed the weight of her conscious before she could move on.”
“You were her confessor?” Eric asked as he played with the fingers on her right hand, the small diamonds catching in the sunlight.
She shook her head in response, “I didn’t want to hear what she needed to unload so desperately. I took care of her every need but, I couldn’t take on that burden too. It’s how I learned to adjust the volume of my ability. Her need pushed me to take control of it.”
“You didn’t want the memory of her to be tainted by her confessions,” he surmised.
Sookie looked at him in wonder as if she was looking at him for the first time. “How can you know me so well?” she spoke ever so softly.
“Perhaps it’s my gift,” he smirked before placing a soft kiss to her forehead, his gaze turned to the water all the warmth from his face descending, his hand squeezing hers softly. “Perhaps it’s because I know what it’s like to remember someone only by the circumstances of their death.”
The market place was a true plethora of fresh goods. Adonia bargained down the prices like a pro after Pam translated the amount Sookie would need for her Gran’s infamous gumbo that night. She had decided on a seafood version as Pam’s translating skills stopped when it came to the names of meat cuts.
Sookie had slipped into a small spice shop leaving Adonia and Pam to gather the rest of the comestibles during an extensive haggling session. She was happy to find the shopkeeper spoke English, however, his insistence for her to buy the blended varieties the island was known for was of little use while she tried to politely gather what she needed. When Sookie asked for the specific varieties she was looking for after the third try, he reluctantly helped, allowing her to sample their perfumes before bagging them up individually.
She recognised most of the smells although some seemed to be a more floral or headier version of the spices back home. Sookie knew she was going to have to tweak her recipe a bit but was determined to make it taste as good as her Gran’s in defiance of Russell. When the shopkeeper handed over her bag and change a hand came to rest on the small of her back only to reveal an unmistakable voice behind her.
“There you are,” he spoke to her back as his other hand came to rest over the ring on her finger. “I was hoping I would find my fiancé here.”
“You’ll do it then? Relieve me of the suffering when it becomes too great.”
“I’m doing it for Talbot and Pam,” he spoke in an even tone, completely devoid of any betraying emotion. “They deserve to remember you, not your death.”
“Not for yourself?” he questioned hoping to elicit some sympathy. “You would wish to see me suffer?”
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly unwilling to engage Russell in his games anymore. Offering him the truth gave him nothing to barter with, allowing Eric to stay in control of his emotions and of the conversation as he treated his surrogate father like any business associate. Carelessly he continued, “Perhaps it should have been my end game all along. Perhaps I was being kind with my intended quick death for you.”
“I understand,” he spoke compassionately while dropping his hand on his, patting it gently in a familiar way that was foreign to them both. Eric eyed him warily, a life in Russell’s presence had taught him to be suspicious of any of his overt intentions.
“I don’t think you do,” he stated without an ounce of warmth, pulling his hand swiftly from the limp one that had settled on top of it. “It is my forgiveness you seek and you’re not going to find it with me. You will have to live with what you have done, I will not alleviate your guilt simply because you are dying. This isn’t a mercy killing.”
“I admire your strength,” Russell spoke with pleasurable commendation. He couldn’t ascertain it with conviction, but Eric considered it was the most capable of truths Russell had ever spoken to him.
“It’s not mine,” he shrugged unimpressed by the spoken words.
“Ms Stackhouse?” It was a question they both didn’t need an answer to.
Eric simply nodded out of habit.
“She is good for you. Don’t let her slip away. You did well in keeping her by your side,” Russell noted sagely causing Eric to cock a brow with the underlying threat.
“You’d be wise to tell Sookie that instead of baiting her.”
“You are a lucky man,” the shopkeeper complimented the man behind her. “Not only is she beautiful but your fiancé is obviously a good cook.”
Sookie stood stiff, not daring to turn around to see the man belonging to the voice, wishing against all evidence of the contrary that it was all an illusion.
“Indeed you are, darling,” he said warmly while he snaked an arm around her waist, clamping her in place. “She cooks me the most delicious things,” he offered to the salesperson before his tone fell to a dangerous hiss. “But nothing as delicious at what lies between her thighs.”
The friendly smile on the shopkeeper’s face disappeared instantly with the crude insinuation. Without another verbal response he continued in a stage whisper, “She’s a bit of a whore this one. Will spread her legs for anyone who can stand to be around her for longer than five minutes. Try it, I’m sure she’d indulge even you.”
The shopkeeper didn’t know whether to call the police or take him up on his offer.
“Perhaps I can interest you in some other spices,” he offered remembering his own wife and taking in the look of horror on the young blonde woman’s face who stood frozen in shock.
“Let’s go and talk outside, darling,” he spoke threateningly, forcing his grasp on her further while ignoring the shopkeeper from that point onwards as he proceeded to steer them to the exit.
Still paralysed with fear she wordlessly followed him out the vendor’s greeting going unheard. Sookie couldn’t pinpoint whether it was the outside air or the fact that she saw his face again that pulled her from the unmoving state she found herself in. His face had fallen in, obviously from a lack of appetite, and his meticulous grooming regimen had fallen right along in the wayside. Noting he looked like a piece of shit pulled Sookie from her reverie causing her to scream obscenities at him as he forced her into a side alley teeming with cats. They scrambled away around them with the struggle and shouts when he forced her onto the ground roughly.
“You fucking bitch!” he screamed at her with rage reigning the cold hard look in his eyes. “You ruined my life, I’m destitute because of you! While you’re fucking around and jetting all over Europe with Eric,” he sneered especially distasted at her Viking’s name. The stench of alcohol was wafting from his breath forcing Sookie to hold hers while she pushed him off her, finding little resistance in his weakened body. She looked on in surprise as the realisation settled that his hold on her had been psychological rather than physical. He crashed onto a stack of cardboard boxes and they were soon gaining an audience beyond the felines that inhabited the filthy corridor.
“That’s rich coming from you, Bill Compton,” she exclaimed finally finding her voice with an unknown inner strength. “The man who took everything from me, only too happy to give it to the highest bidder.”
“Well, I see I was right in procuring you,” he taunted with accusation. “Apparently spreading your legs kept you alive.” Bill attempted to set himself straight again but failed, dizziness causing him to fall back in the same spot with a thump. With satisfaction Sookie noted it was a particularly filthy spot while she put more distance between them and sought out the safety of the crowd that had come to watch the supposed domestic dispute.
“You really are a pathetic man. You don’t know anything about Eric or me. If you value what’s left of your miserable existence you’d best keep it that way,” she threatened with the steel in her voice palpable in the muggy air.
“Sookie, I love you, please come back to me,” he pleaded with a whimper, now moving on his knees following her path towards the lighter end of the darkened alley. “We can build a life together. Love is all we need.”
“You don’t love me, Bill, just the idea of me. You would never have done the things you did to me if you loved me,” Sookie spoke with a conviction and clarity she was previously unaware she could possess. She turned her back on him once and for all, leaving behind a broken man writhing on the ground while dusting the dirt from her clothes. A frantic Adonia and Pam had finally manoeuvred themselves to the front of the crowd when Sookie reached it.
She thought Adonia was heading towards her, but was shocked to see her move at an extraordinary speed only then to hear an agonised grunt behind her as Bill had just managed to lunge at Sookie’s turned back. Adonia stood over the man’s ailing body yelling what Sookie assumed were a carefully curated selection of Greek profanities.
To add to her wonder Adonia pulled out a cell phone, surprising Sookie not only because the elderly woman hadn’t appeared all that tech savvy, refusing to use any of the electrical household appliances in the house, but she seemed to be barking orders down the line as well as to the on looking crowd who quickly dissipated with her threat.
“Really Bill, this must be a new low even for you, getting beaten up by a ninety-three-year old little lady,” Pam drawled with amusement before she took notice of Sookie again and came to fiercely stand beside her. Bill only managed to grunt out half of the intended ‘bitch’ before Adonia landed a swift kick into his abdomen forcing him to double over in pain.
Two large burly men soon arrived and took Bill away much to Sookie’s shock. When she asked who they were Adonia had replied ‘Oikogéneia’ with a small shrug while caressing Sookie’s cheek affectionately. Pam translated it as the word family for her.
“Let’s get you home,” Pam offered after Adonia had finished verbally assaulting the spice shop owner for his inactions and swiped Sookie’s spices and demanded the paid money back.
“Does Eric know?” Sookie asked with a frown while she rubbed a blackening bruise on her arm.
“Not yet,” Pam shrugged. “He doesn’t really possess Adonia’s restraint when emotions are running high. We thought it best to wait.”
Sookie took a deep breath, not looking forward to his reaction either. She didn’t want Bill dead, the man was a miserable sack of shit but he didn’t deserve to die over this. She knew Eric wouldn’t kill him indiscriminately, but now she was wondering if Adonia’s wrath might just be scarier than Eric’s.
Eric flew out the front door and held onto Sookie almost painfully tight moments after Pam had opened the iron gate for her.
“You’re ok?” he asked the huddled form on his chest.
“Yes,” her muffled voice replied. “He was just a mean drunk.”
Pam had already removed herself as witness to their tender affection but Adonia was still moving slowly towards the house mumbling to herself in agitation. Eric laughed softly at her loudly spoken words of hostility.
“What are you laughing about?” Sookie asked confused, still lost in his warm embrace.
“Adonia is upset that after all she’s done for you today, you’re still only interested in the golden boy.” She sniggered into his chest with Adonia’s words of malcontent for Sookie’s continued lack of interest in Talbot.
“Golden, huh?” she asked while looking up into his eyes. “Maybe I can work with that.”
“Golden Viking Sex God,” he smirked knowing where her mind had travelled to with her continued preoccupation of finding him a suitable term of endearment.
“You wish,” she sassed back.
“Come. I have found us a sanctuary,” he whispered in her ear while guiding her to the back gate entrance passing Adonia’s modest home that were once the mansion’s stables.
He held her tightly around the waist through the back streets as if any passer-by had suddenly become a possible threat to her safety. Despite the fact that it was reminiscent of the way Bill had latched onto her, in Eric’s grasp she had never felt safer. Her hand travelled over his allowing fingers to entwine till arriving at a newly constructed apartment block. The elevator opened to the third floor and Eric opened the door to the rear unit before giving her a set of spare keys. It was small and sparse but perfectly formed and equipped.
“It’s a short stay for tourists,” he explained while ushering her in. “We have it for the month and can extend week by week after that.”
“I don’t think Russell will last that long,” she foreshadowed while taking in the utilitarian decor. “It reminds me of your home in Bethesda, though this one has curtains in the bedroom,” Sookie continued on a lighter note seeking out his eyes to assure him she was joking.
It was the first time he properly looked her over and his eyes instantly caught sight of the bruising on her arm. He sat them down on the uncomfortable sofa to take in the damage.
“You’re hurt,” he growled while tenderly inspecting her arm for more evidence of his failings. She sighed at the display of contradictions, he seemed more shaken up by the events that she wore the physical marks of.
“It’s not painful. Adonia’s cheek pinches sting more,” she smiled at him.
“Yes,” he grumbled in agreement. “I don’t know where that woman’s strength comes from. Frankly it’s a little frightening.”
“Speaking of which,” Sookie replied realising they had serious things to discuss. “Adonia got a good beating on Bill. Then she seemed to take over like some mob boss and two hired goons came to collect him and took him away.”
“Oikogéneia,” Eric repeated, knowing the implication of that particular word all too well.
“Yes. Family,” Sookie replied fearing the worst.
“Family takes care of their own here,” he attempted to explain but it did nothing to calm Sookie’s nerves. “Don’t worry, he’s probably tied up in the family olive grove. They won’t do anything without consulting the aggrieved party. You’re the one in control.”
“At least she will have something to occupy her time with that isn’t me,” Sookie mumbled becoming all too well versed in Adonia’s proceedings to her liking. “You won’t-?”
“It’s up to you,” he said kissing her forehead before stroking the soft hairs on her cheek gently. “Don’t wait too long, Lorena will come looking for him if she isn’t already.”
She sank into his body for comfort only to sigh with the prospect. “I had hoped to have seen the last of him. I think an interrogation and a little mind wash is in order.”
“I admire your strength, min älskling,” he said kissing the tip of her nose, causing her to giggle with the ticklish feel of it. She gave him a chaste kiss in return for the rare smile that graced his lips. Without a word exchanged between them evidence was given for this little Spartan bubble they could retreat in, even if it was a consequence from Russell’s and Bill’s actions.
“Right back at ya, nugget,” she spoke against his lips. He grimaced a little at which she quirked her brow. A habit she seemed to be picking up from him.
“I feel like a piece of chicken,” he griped which only released a delighted laugh from her.
She gave him a conciliatory kiss before she offered, “I didn’t think of that. I was just going on gold nugget.”
“Mmm, in Sweden that is a term of endearment, lilla gullebit. It means small gold nugget but it’s mostly spoken to children.”
“I’ll keep that in the vault,” she said absentminded “Goldilocks?”
“I prefer goldicocks,” he retorted.
“Always with your mind in the gutter,” she sighed yet unable to supress the smile caused by the mischief in his eyes.
“As long as I’m just right,” he smirked, moving his hands round her backside to pull her closer for an extended kiss.
“You’re more than just right,” she smiled at him when he released her from the kiss. “You’re the best.”
Eric purred contentedly, “I knew this place would pay off.”
“Well, that explains the curtains then,” she giggled before jumping out of his grasp and running for the door. “Let’s go, I have gumbo to make.”
A/N: Eric made his decision to ‘help’ Russell out after some introspection, he can thank his lucky stars that Sookie demanded to come along… Oh yeah Bill came along… but it wasn’t as bad as it could be… and in comparison to the cliffies on BOTV and GD I think this will tide you over nicely till the new year where the mind games can resume with Russell…
This may sound familiar if you read BOTV & GD. As I mentioned in last chapter’s a/n this will be the last chapter for this year and we’ll pick up with this story and my other WIPs in January. I haven’t decided on scheduling yet in the new year, I’m hoping to get back to three updates a week rather than the current two leaving a week and a half between but I’m still trying to figure out what works best.
There will be one more update for FTI before the end of the year and some Christmas fics.
Thanks to MsBuffy who worked her magic on this once more.